Roslyn and Don Nelson met in the registration line in June, 1944, on their first day at UCLA. Striking up a conversation while waiting between the men’s and women’s gyms, Roz and Don quickly became friends and gradually fell in love. Sixty-eight years later, having raised two daughters and six grandchildren together, Roz and Don’s love for each other and for UCLA continues to flourish.
Born in Hollywood and San Diego, respectively, Roz and Don both came to UCLA to pursue math majors, although Don says that if he had been ten years younger he would have gone into the computer industry. Don minored in chemistry and became a Certified Public Accountant, a profession which he enjoyed for 40 years before his retirement from Deloitte & Touché in 1989. Roslyn took courses in the education department and earned her teaching credential in 1949.
From a young age, Roslyn considered becoming a teacher like her mother and grandmother before her. Having been home schooled by Roslyn’s grandmother in Clear Lake, Iowa, Roslyn’s mother, Josephine Reps, received her Master’s Degree in art from UCLA before joining the faculty at UCLA, where she taught Costume Design in the art department for many years.
“She was teaching when I was a student,” Roslyn says. “I was very proud of her, but I was also embarrassed by the fancy hats, gloves, and nylons that she wore around campus. She was very noticeable.”
While Roslyn had planned to attend Pomona College or Redlands, the death of her father when she was 17 changed her plans. Wishing to stay at home in the Hollywood Hills to help her mother care for her siblings, Roslyn was recommended for a scholarship to UCLA by her principal and teachers at Hollywood High School. She enrolled in the fall of 1944, carpooling with her mother to and from Westwood.
Don attended Grossmont Union High School in San Diego and was the first in his immediate family to graduate from college. Although most of his high school friends attended San Diego State, Don was eager to go away for college and settled on UCLA for its excellent academics and relatively affordable tuition, which was about $25 in those days.
With the country in the midst of World War II, only about 2,500 students were enrolled at UCLA in the Summer of 1944, of whom very few were men. At 16, Don was too young to enlist, but like most of the male students he was required to take ROTC classes where he studied map making, marching and commands, assembling and cleaning weaponry, and other practical field training. Many of his friends were sent into combat, but a broken ankle from playing football kept Don out of the draft until after the war ended in August of 1945. Don remembers being in the chemistry lab when he heard the Royce Hall bells begin to ring, announcing the war’s end.
Before being asked to reinstate the Zeta Psi Fraternity, which had been closed during World War II, along with a few friends, Don lived in Robeson Hall, a co-op on the edge of campus, where he shared a room with two other male students. As a member of the Zeta Psi Chapter at UCLA, Don lived on fraternity row on Gayley Avenue and later, when their lease ran out, on Hilgard, where the W Hotel stands today. He got a job working for the campus photographer, developing film between classes in a darkroom in Kerckhoff Hall.
“I smelled like chemicals all the time,” Don says. “Yes, he did!,” Roslyn affirms, laughing.
Roslyn pledged Kappa Kappa Gamma and attended weekly dinners on Monday nights at the Kappa House. She also served as the sorority’s treasurer. Although only a minority of UCLA students pledged in those days, Greek Life played a large role in the Nelsons’ social life while at UCLA. Roslyn performed with her sorority sisters in the Spring Sing every year, and many of her closest friends were her sorority sisters.
Athletics also dominated the social scene while the Nelsons were at UCLA. In addition to attending many of the games with Roz, Don was on the football team for one year and on the track team for two years, where he ran the 110-yard hurdles and the long jump. Roz and Don continue to be season ticketholders at UCLA basketball and football games and have been major contributors to the James West Alumni Center and Pauley Pavilion campaigns.
When she entered the workforce in 1949, Roslyn remembers being surprised by some of the methods of the LA City Schools.
“The public school system at the time grouped children based on their ability,” she recalls. “There was less of an emphasis on individual differences than there is today, and when I graduated from UCLA I didn’t realize that students would be grouped in classes in such a way and that their competencies would vary so greatly. The worst of my classes didn’t even know multiplication, and the weakest students were often the ones to misbehave.”
After two years, Roslyn left Bancroft Junior High School to raise her family. Although she never returned to the teaching profession, she continued to serve her community by volunteering for the Junior League of Los Angeles and the Nine O’Clock Players of the Assistance League of Southern California. In addition, she served as Chairman of the House Board for the Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority, and became a Sunday school teacher at the Westwood United Methodist Church.
Upon his graduation from UCLA, Don joined Deloitte, an accounting firm known today as Deloitte & Touche. Now one of the largest professional service organizations in the world, Deloitte offered Don a rich and rewarding career during which he traveled around the world, building relationships with a number of companies and organizations. He was very active in the accounting professional organizations and was president of the California Society of CPS in 1983. Don assisted the firm in becoming the auditor of UCLA’s Alumni Association, and subsequently, he sat on the UCLA Foundation Board for a few short terms in the 1970s, getting to know Chancellor Franklin Murphy and other leaders of the University. Don was a Charter Member and Chairman of the Franklin Murphy Associates (now the Chancellor’s Associates) at UCLA, and he also became an active member of the Westwood Village Rotary Club.
Shortly after Don retired in 1989, the Nelsons helped to raise their three granddaughters while their daughter went back to school, earning her elementary school teaching credential from UCLA.
Today, the Nelsons seem busier than ever. Through the Rotary, Don attends weekly meetings at the Faculty Center at UCLA, where he and his fellow Rotarians support local and international humanitarian projects including building clean water pumps in developing countries, supporting underserved families across Los Angeles, building homes in Mexico, and working to eradicate polio, among other ventures.
Every Monday for the past nine years, Roslyn and Don have delivered meals to immobile seniors through the Meals on Wheels of West Los Angeles, and as members of the Westwood Methodist Church they have been very active in PATH (People Assisting the Homeless) program, serving breakfast once a month at the Regional Homeless Center in Downtown Los Angeles and assisting in job training and housing searches for homeless Angelinos.
“Our volunteer work is important to us and very rewarding,” says Roslyn.
With no signs of stopping, the Nelsons look forward to serving the most disadvantaged in Los Angeles for many years to come.